Mining sector: Is Ghana fully behind its national champions?

extractive sector
An open pit mine in the town of Prestea, where Oxfam parter organization in Ghana, WACAM has been supporting the Concerned Citizens Association of Prestea in its efforts to negotiate with a mining company around issues related to air and water pollution, and the proposed expansion of mining operations.

It’s done! A few weeks ago, Asante Gold acquired a 90% stake in the Chirano gold mine in Ghana in a deal valued at USD 225 million with Canada’s Kinross Gold Corporation. This takeover happened thanks to public funds and should boost the recovery of the national extractive sector recovery, which contributes to more than 5% of the national GDP. The Ghanaian government, which already held a 10% stake in the mine, had agreed to the sale, according to an official statement released by Kinross Gold Corporation.

In October 2018, the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, addressed his people and shared his vision of a financially independent Ghana. His vision of ‘Ghana beyond aid’ should lead the state to exploit the country’s natural resources more efficiently and, thereby, increase royalties from domestic production.

The acquisition of the Chirano gold mine is symbolic of the country’s ambition to regain control over the exploitation of its mineral and oil resources. Ghana made this transaction possible by fully financing it, through the mobilisation of the Ghana Infrastructure Investment Fund (GIIF) and the Minerals Income Investment Fund (MIIF). Crucially, four Ghanaians belong to the management team of Asante Gold. This action by the Ghanaian executive is to be welcomed. Behind the acquisition of this asset by a junior lies an ambitious government initiative to create a new leader in the mining sector that will defend the interests of Ghanaians above all.

But if the government wants to see the emergence of true national champions, a little more involvement is required. In the specific case of this transaction, the Ghanaian government has not yet publicly and formally presented its approval of this major takeover. This will represent another opportunity for the government to demonstrate its full support for its local entrepreneurs. The West African country had already done so in 2021, when it positioned Springfield, a Ghanaian oil junior, among the country’s largest hydrocarbon companies. The latter won a lawsuit against the Italian giant ENI over a dispute concerning the Sankofa and Afina oil fields. The Ghanaian government, buoyed by this oil and gas success, is trying to replicate this in the gold mining sector.

Asante Gold, thanks to the financial commitment of the Ghanaian government, now has increasingly important assets in the country’s mining sites. This is particularly the case at the Kubi Gold and Bibiani mines, where it is developing its mining operations. With this financial support from the government, the Ghanaian junior owns a sizeable public fund, almost US 500 million during the year, to invest in the Chirano gold mine.

In Southern Africa, Zambia’s example of buying up the country’s main mining sites is a textbook case. The Zambian state first nationalized the entire mining industry in 1969. This move was later affirmed by a United Nations General Assembly resolution on The New International Economic Order, 1974, which resolution read in part, ‘In order to safeguard these (natural) resources, each state is entitled to safeguard effective control over them and their exploitation with means suitable to its own situation…’ . The mines remained under state ownership and control between 1969 and 2000. During this period, copper production plummetted from pre-nationalization figures of approximately 750,000 tonnes per annum to 250,000 tonnes in the year immediately prior to post-privatisation.

After the mines were privatised, there was a commodities boom and these production figures only reached the pre-nationalization levels in 2019. It took two painful decades to get the country’s production back to the levels it had reached in 1969 ! The lesson here is clear – a country’s ambitions to regain control over its mineral and oil resources is legitimate. However, this ambition should not necessarily translate into nationalization. The UN resolution states that this can be done ‘…with means suitable to its own situation’. In this case, the suitable means are the support of a competent private national champion.

Notwithstanding the lessons learnt from the past, Zambian state has in recent times been hardening its relationship with the mining industry in order to regain control of its mines to boost its economy. “Owning interests in certain strategic mines gives the state the leverage to use mineral resources for the benefit of the nation”, Zambian President Edgar Lungu said in December 2020.

Critics of the buy-back policy say it is abrupt, but with a clear vision, it could be a lifesaver for the Zambian economy. In 2021, the Zambian state acquired all shares in the Mopani copper mine for USD 1.5 billion through its company ZCCM-IH. It was 90% owned by the Swiss company Glencore. It also expropriated the Vedanta owned Konkola Copper Mines. Since the acquisition of these two mines by the Zambian government, production figures have dwindled, at a time when the nation should be taking advantage of a rise in commodity prices.

One may contrast these scenarios with the fortunes of the country’s largest power supplier to the mines, the Copperbelt Energy Corporation Plc (CEC). The entity was formed as a management buy-out of the state-run ZCCM Power Division, in 2000. The Board of Directors, senior Executive and Management teams in the entity (as is the case with Asante) are indigenous Zambians. This local champion has expanded its operations making it the leading supplier of reliable power to the mines in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Analogies can be drawn between CEC and Asante, to provide lessons for Ghana. In the words of Tom Klause, the President of the World Bank in 1981, ‘African Governments should not only examine ways in which the public sector organisations can be operated more efficiently, but should also examine the possibility of placing greater reliance on the private sector’. These words ring as true today. As African governments seek to increase control of their mineral and oil resources, it must be realized that this can be done far more efficiently through the support and backing of national private champions such as Asante Gold.

History teaches us that South Korean industrial and technological champions are at the heart of the industrial power of this Asian country and at the origin of its fabulous economic and social development in less than half a century. But they have needed the support of their political authorities to take on the world. The governments of Ghana and all African countries should also intensify the promotion of our entrepreneurs, who are the ones who can achieve the African dream.

Goodwell Mateyo, former President of the Zambian Chamber of Mines

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